Rusaw, Rick and Brian Mavis, The Neighboring Church: Getting Better at What Jesus Said Matters the Most, Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2016. 168pp. $24.99.
Rick Rusaw and Brian Mavis offer a clear and compelling picture of how the local church creates an environment for believers to obey Jesus’ command to love their neighbors as themselves. In the first chapter, “What Matters Most,” the authors confess that as church leaders they were asking the wrong questions. So instead of asking, “Are we the best church in the community?” they began asking, “Are we the best church for the community?” Asking new questions led to a significant shift in ministry that helped their church become what they call a neighboring church.
Neighboring, according to the authors, is rooted in the way that God relates to us. It was in Jesus’ nearness that He served and sacrificed to redeem His people (34). In chapters 3-6, Rusaw and Mavis offer practical insights and tools to help churches make neighboring a value that permeates every part of the ministry focus.
Neighboring, they contend, is not a program of the church. Instead, it is the “prime imperative of God”, and it is every believer’s way of life (49). As a result, churches do not measure progress simply by attendance, but by how their people impact the community by loving their neighbors. The authors state, “We have been placed by God in our neighborhoods” (76), so we get to know, love, serve, and pray for the people closest to us. The authors give examples, tools, and advice for practicing neighboring in a lifestyle of hospitality.
As a church makes this shift to becoming a neighboring church, the authors warn against building a “pastor-centric” ministry model. Instead, they encourage developing neighborhood coaches who will resource church members to love their neighbors. The authors call pastors to lead their churches to become neighboring churches, but to understand this paradigm shift requires time, prayer, and intentional realignment of vision.
To conclude, the authors note that neighboring may produce a few big stories of transformation, but that most of the successes will be in the small, mundane, everyday stories of genuine life change.
Benefit for Pastoral Ministry
What is old is new. The Neighboring Church reminds us of what church was meant to be. Rather than an event we attend or an organization we grow, the church is a people scattered across the community to love our neighbors. The redeeming power of Jesus’ ministry was not only that He is God, but also that He became man and dwelt among us. When we make neighboring a priority, we will know the “histories, hopes, and hurts” of our neighbors, and like Jesus, we will love and serve them in a way that matters.
Authors Rick Rusaw and Brian Mavis pull the curtains back on the process of shifting from an attractional church model to a neighboring model. Even as their church was growing and reaching people far from God, they were not convinced they were truly impacting the community. So they determined to become an “externally focused” church (3). That led to a series of questions every pastor should ask:
- Are we doing what Jesus said matters most?
- If we left the neighborhood, would anybody care?
- What if we worked as hard on scattering as we do on gathering?
- What would happen if we got better at loving our neighbors?
When we honestly answer questions like these, our ministry priorities will change. This book provides biblical foundations and practical insights and examples for churches that want to become the best neighbor their neighbors have ever had.
Church leaders should not think that neighboring is a new program to launch. Instead, neighboring is a value to embrace and practice. It means we open our homes and our hearts to people who are not currently in our homes or our hearts. The Neighboring Church an inspiring and instructional primer on how churches can impact the community through the very basic act of loving our neighbors as ourselves.
Essential — Recommended — Helpful — Pass It By
The Neighboring Church is an accessible, inspiring, and practical resource for the church that wants to do what Jesus said matters the most—to love God and love our neighbors.